Bosnia and Herzegovina / Montenegro / Serbia
It was last year that I visited Sarajevo for the first (and the second) time and as soon as we crossed Bosnian border through Zvornik passing, I decided that this country deserves a trip. It wasn´t until this june that I made it happen and sure enough, I´ll remember this one for a long time. Unlike 2 years ago when I dediced to go to Canada completely alone, this time I didn´t even consider it an issue – solo travelling became that natural to me. Also, I wanted to practise my Serbian as much as possible and I am convinced that the fact that I speak the language a bit made this trip so special.
My trip begins in town of Tuzla in North Bosnia and Herzegovina. The airport has a rather provincial atmosphere which underlines the fact there is no public transport to the city. Nevertheless I made my way to the centre only to find out there is no direct connection from Tuzla to Visegrad (Republika Srpska – Eastern Bosnia), I was supposed to go to Sarajevo first. Another discovery was that buses here are actually not that cheap! These reasons made my decision to try hitchhiking much easier. My first ride was a nice company – a guy in mid 30s who told me about his youth working in France and spinal injury caused by accident when working in mines in Bosnia. Then, from town of Vlasenica I took a bus to Visegrad. I googled the distance to Visegrad – being 87km I expected about 1 hour ride but very soon I found out that the shortest distance here is rarely the one taken a even if often you have the impression that the driver is trying to kill himself and everybody on board by his crazy driving style, in reality the buses are no that fast …luckily for all the cows walking free and unattended on the roads, appearing in places where you´d least expect them. However, for some time we were following canyon of Drina river, unfortunately not accessible other than by boat, and that was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen and it will probably cost me another visit in future.
Bridge over Drina river
Visegrad is famous for its stone bridge over Drina river built in 16th century, immortalized in Ivo Andrić´s novel awarded by Nobel prize in 1961 (beating for example Tolkien´s Lord of the rings that year, imagine that!). City itself is not that interesting, there is newly built city centre called Anrićgrad – an ongoing construction project dedicated to the great writer by Emir Kusturica. For me personally the most interesting part was the accommodation at the apartment house of Mr. Blagojević, a lovely older gentleman that kept me company in the evening, made me coffee and explained me his version of Bosnian history and his theory of economic backround of the war conflicts. In his opinion a country without any debt to world bank will sooner or later become the target of the war conspiration so they can destroy their economy and in the end they make them borrow billions ..believe it or not(?)
Next morning I was on the road again. In attempt of finding a good hitchhiking spot, I took a small forest path parallel to the main road but turned out to be a bad idea and after about an hour I realized I got lost. Then, out of nowhere appeared an eldery couple with a grandson on the walk. They showed me a shortcut I would have never ever found, passing a mysterious old house with 5 grandmas sitting on the terrace, spinnig a wheel (!!). That was just out of this world, felt like passing through some magical portal into the past.
Road to Sarajevo took me 4 rides, first of them 3 nice women with whom I didn´t speak much. Then it was a guy in his 50s with his mother, lovely people who said that Bosnia has everything – beautiful nature, forests, rivers, good people but no money. They would leave with the first chance, except there are no chances. Next one was a handsome young truck driver, Tihomir. He even took me for a coffee and we had surprisingly deep conversation about life and love. It felt like I would like to spend more time with him, and I was sad to get off the truck. In my personal survey about quality of life in Bosnia he was on the positive side – happy about his life, living according to the theory „A smart guy leads a life he wants, a stupid one leads a life he has to.“ Last one was apparetly smart ass businessman around 40, satisfied about his life as well and judging by his car, he wasn´t doing bad at all.
I am not going to speak about Sarajevo, partially because I think you can find many many guides online and partially because I came to Balkans for authenticity and cities like Sarajevo or Mostar are becoming a bit too touristic for my taste. I came mainly for cheap hostels (although Sarajevo is definitely worth visiting and probably hides many interesting spots I haven´t found yet).
Next stop was rafting on Neretva river starting in town of Konjic. The deal I found was great; for 35 euros you get rafting, lunch and a hostel. The guy from the company even came to take me from the station acting all friendly and everything. You know that feeling when someone is acting so nice that it makes you unconfortable? Wait for it. Rafting was great, Neretva canyon was beyond beautiful. With all the july heat I soon got burnt as hell but nevermind. The lunch was great. Then the guy came to take me to what I believed was hostel, so I asked where it was. The guy pretended to get suprised and with the question „what hostel?“ I began to understand this is not what I signed up for. Turned out in his understanding „the hostel“ means possibility to sleep on the couch in his living room, in his words – „You have a bed, you have a shower, so it´s a hostel, right?!“ Yeah, bulletproof argument. In the end I decided to stay, despite the fact he was a sleazy dickhead and never felt so unwelcome in my life. Well, it was a free bed. And no, I am not totally crazy (or maybe let´s judge this later), his family lived in that house too, that made me feel secure.
I left that hell hole early in the morning without saying goodbye, heading for Jablanica. I also stole his burek (well, technically breakfast was supposed to be part of the deal as well). I had no idea in the beginning how lucky I was to catch a ride with 2 young guys who were in search of some component to fix their car. By a miracle that apparently happen regularly in this part of the world, they found a shop that had what they needed, so they decided to join me on my next stop – Blidinje nature park (until now I have no idea how else would I get there, as public transport in that area is a joke and traffic is not exactly frequent ). I had the most amazing time with Alen and Andy, first we shared a coffee in Jablanica, then a lunch next to the lake Blidinje, which as we found out is despite its size less than a meter deep all the way. I was planning to do some hiking in Čvrsnica mountains later that day, so Alen even called his dad and asked him how exactly shall I get on my way and of course they drove me directly to the beginnig of the hike. This was the hardest goodbye of all my rides, memory of that day makes me smile even now. They invited me to Graz, Austria where they currently live.
The hike turned out to be fucking difficult, partially because of the way, partially beacuse of the amount of things I had to carry on my back and partially because of my stupidity, otherwise I cannot explain the fact that I went for sleepover hike with 2 litres of water, in 40 degrees heat. At some point I decided to hide part of my things in the bag on the way cause the weight was just killing me. I didn´t manage to reach the peak Pločno before sunset, so I made my bed at about 2000 m altitude, without a tent. Being my first one of this kind, the coldness came as quite a surprise. Also, my sleeping bag turned out to be a total shit, I was shaking of cold wearing everything I had including my raincoat. But I guess the fear was even worse, after a nightfall suddenly things that seemed like a good idea during the day felt completely different, and in the night you see and hear things that are not even there. It was a nightmare – I was tired as hell but I couldn´t sleep for a second.
4:30 am I was back on the road watching the sunrise over the mountain. ..ok, that was freaking hilarious! I reached the top around 7 am and I´ve never been prouder of myself. If I had asked anyone about this hike before, knowing my equipment, for sure I would be advised not to go, and maybe I´d get discouraged, but I managed, despite the fact how desperately unprepared I was. And important to say, I decided never to do anything this crazy again.
Way down was a piece of cake and a monastery in the forest saved me with water. I managed to get to the next village by 2 rides. First an older couple who invited me for coffee and told me that indeed there are bears in the park, so apparently my imagination during the night didn´t go that crazy. Next one was a local ranger with a huge rifle, patrolling around the park. Then for a long time I wasn´t lucky. (Also, there were not many cars passing). In the end fancy white mercedes stopped. The guy around 40 with emotionless face was anything but nice company. Starting with uncomfortable questions like what am I thinking, hitchhiking alone, what would I do if he hurted me or robbed me (right, nothing breaks the ice faster than threatening someone) and then getting even worse asking if I am selling myself and if I´d go with him for 500 euros. He laughed to my answer that I am not interested in money, saying that everyone has a price and he opened his little black handbag. To my astonishement (and horror) it was full of 500 euros bank notes, thinking back I think there must have been something around 100.000 euros!! My first thought was that a guy who carries this much of a cash probably has a gun too and a horror movie started to roll in my head immediately. I was scared shitless but I tried to keep the conversation casual and not to antagonize him in the slightest. It remained uneasy until the end but nothing bad happened. Dropping me off in Jablanica he even said it´s a pity I am not cotinuing all the way to Tuzla with him. Yeah, right! Is it even possible he didn´t realized how unconfortable this ride was for me?!?! For next 2 days I travelled by bus only.
After spending a day in a lovely town of Trebinje I followed to Montenegrian capital, Podgorica. The point was of course Skadar lake (no offence my Montenegrian friends, but Podgorica is kind of a shithole). Skadar lake was absolutely the most amazing part of this trip!! I think my pictures don´t do justice to landscapes this place offers. While waiting for a boat ride, the owner of the boat company offered me to use his kayak for free (is it weird that this kind of thing stopped surprising me??) On the way back I had no other choice but hitchhiking but I was lucky to stop 2 eldery men. One of them was almost deaf but that didn´t stop him from conversation, unfotunately he was the one behing the wheel and every time he was saying something, he turned back to me not giving a shit about watching the road. It was only thanks to his friend´s constant shouting that we avoided a car accident. They invited me for a coffee (which for them meant vodka and juice) and they warned me about threats of today´s world and they remembered nostalgically of old Yugoslavia. But they were right about the present, cause my next hike to Podgorica was really annoying middle aged guy who kept inviting me to his place and asked inappropriate questions, but i think I am began to understand. The equation goes like this – the better the car is, the bigger asshole drives it.
I had a dilemma about my next step but in the end I decided I´ve had enough of Montenegro and I headed for my beloved Serbia, more specifically for Mokra Gora and Šargan Eight train ride. Turned out to be quite a journey, starting at 11 pm in Podgorica ending around 7pm in the final destination, inculding 4 changes and 3 hours waiting at Novi Pazar´s bus station very early in the morning, but local ćevapi guy was kind enough to let me stay at his small restaurant while everything else was closed – around 4 am ..and guess what! Yep, a free coffee was included.
One part of the road between Sjenica and Uzice I had to hitchhike again so I found a spot next to the local gas station. The traffic was almost non existing, the sun burning and I was getting desperate. The guy working at the station came to talk to me and said it won´t be easy to find a ride but he´ll help me. With the next truck coming he ran in the middle of the road and stopped it and directed him to take me. It was unbelievable nice, nevermind the driver was one annoying piece of shit again.
Mokra Gora is a nice place but Šargan eight was a bit disappointing. The train itself is nice, it is all wooden and old but it is missing the steam locomotive you kind of expect after seeig the website and google pictures and also, the views during the ride are not that great. I skipped Emir Kusturica´s Drvengrad because it was incredibly hot and I voted for recommendation of my hosts to go for a bath to the local spring. On the road I passed a small monastery, completely empty inside, with a box full of money gifted from passers by, and a small table full of souvenirs with a note to kindly leave money in the small box in case you take something. Somehow, this trust in people completely amazed me!
Tara national park
My next stop was Tara national park, a place of exceptional beauty. Sadly I feel like I didn´t have time to fully explore it and that I missed the best places but on the other hand I am coming back for sure. I hitchhiked to Kaludjerske Bare village by 2 rides, second of them were 2 guys between 50-60 years. We couldn´t find the hostel so we were driving around the village and asking locals, who had no idea as well (later I understood they had no chance – the hostel was new and there were no signs). One of those two guys told me I owe him a kiss for this drive and I naively thought that was some figure of speech but after they dropped me off, that disgusting old man kissed me on the lips!! I was totally unprepared for that.
my company during hiking in Tara
Next day I went for a bit of hiking around but there were warnings for bears everywhere so I was more than happy to join a group of Serbian tourists in their 50s. Together we walked whole day, they were incredibly nice and curious about Slovakia and how people see their country (as Serbians always are). And of course, we discussed Serbian history. In the afternoon I took a direct bus to Belgrade but it felt more like sightseeing tour going around the mountains with the most amazing views. The bus broke at one point but skilled drivers fixed in within half an hour and we continued to Belgrade. Serbian capital would deserve an article itself but I am sure that many such texts already exists and for me the love for this place is hard to put in words, you have to experience it yourself. Don´t ever hesitate to visit it if you have a chance!
And that would be it for now – farewell, Balkans, until our next meeting!